There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding periods to begin with, but swimming takes it to a whole other level. When your cycle hits with unfortunate timing, it can be frustrating to try to plan around it. But whether you are on a beach holiday, taking a dip in a hot spring, or planning to be poolside, you can swim without worry on your period.
What to wear when swimming on your period
If you are worried about leaks whilst you tan, or want to wear your favourite white swim suit or trunks, you can still be protected. Thankfully you have quite a few options to choose from when it comes to what to wear whilst swimming on your period.
A menstrual cup is great to use when swimming. It is a re-useable period product that is usually made from 100% medical grade silicone. It is a flexible cup that is inserted into the vagina and creates a seal to collect the blood and other waste during your period. To change it, you simply dump the contents of the cup into the toilet or sink, wash it, rinse it, and then reinsert it. A menstrual cup is a good choice for swimming because they have a lower risk of infection and TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome) when compared to tampons. They also save you more money in the long run, are better for the environment, and can be worn up to 12 hours. However, they can be a little messy, and intimidating to use for beginners.
Tampons are convenient and easy to use for swimming. Tampons are usually made from cotton, or a blend of synthetic fibres, and are inserted into the vagina where they absorb period waste. They are easy to change and to dispose of, with little mess. As tampons can absorb some water, be sure to change your tampon as soon as you’re done swimming. Although it’s low, tampons can be a risk for Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) - a condition where bacteria can cause toxins to grow - which can be very dangerous and can affect anyone. To lower risk of TSS make sure to use the lowest absorbency of tampon needed, wash your hands before and after using a tampon, and change your tampon every 4 to 8 hours.
Period swimwear is a great choice for those who are uncomfortable with, or don’t like using, insertable period products. They are just what they sound like, period underwear made out of a swimsuit material. They collect period blood similar to how a pad would, but they usually offer more protection, don’t bunch up, and are reusable. However, most period underwear is not suitable for those with heavier periods, and they can be limited on sizing depending on the brand and where you live.
A menstrual disc is a shallow, flat ring that comes in both reusable and disposable options. It is usually made from 100% medical-grade silicone and is flexible. It’s pinched and inserted into the vagina where it will sit right below the cervix. It collects blood like a menstrual cup but, unlike the menstrual cup, it does not create a seal, but is held up by the pubic bone. They can hold up to 6 tsp of blood and be worn for up to 12 hours like a cup. To remove the disc, you simply untuck it from the pubic bone and dump its contents. Then you wash and reinsert if it’s reusable, or throw away if it is not; however be aware that discs are known to be messier than cups.
Do not wear pads when swimming - they’ll just absorb all the water and swell up like a nappy. Also, the adhesive does not work well with swimsuit material, so you will also risk your pad falling out and becoming ‘a floatie’.
Can you go swimming without period protection?
Yep! If you like to free bleed, are uncomfortable, don’t like insertable products, or cannot afford alternatives, don’t sweat. If you’ve gone in the water before with your period, you might have noticed you don’t bleed. This is because of the water pressure which works against the force of gravity. It’s actually a myth that you stop bleeding completely – the truth is that you can still leak. If you sneeze, cough, laugh, or move around too much (depending on the heaviness of your flow) blood might come out.
What if I leak into the water?
If you do leak, it most likely won’t be visible, as the water dilutes the blood. But there is still a risk of period blood staining your swim suit or trunks, and when you get out of the water, gravity will take over again, which means you’ll bleed as normal. If you choose to free bleed, wear a darker swim suit with a dark towel to prevent noticeable stains!
Period myths about swimming
There are plenty of myths surrounding your period and thankfully these have all been debunked. So, enjoy the water!
No, there is no proof or correlation between menstrual bleeding and shark attacks. Although sharks can smell period blood, they are not part of a shark’s diet! Many people with periods safely dive all of the time whilst bleeding without worry.
No, it’s not unhygienic to swim on your period. Whether you choose to free bleed or not, the amount of blood that could go into the water is miniscule. It’s instantly diluted into the water and if you are swimming in chlorine, it will prevent any spread of bacteria or disease. If you’re using period products your blood will not even touch the water.
No, swimming on your period is not unsafe. Although water can get into your cup or tampon, as long as you change it when you’re finished swimming, you should be fine. You should also change out of your swim wear as well, because sitting in wet swimwear can irritate the vulva and vagina.
Temperature changes blood flow
No, this isn’t true either. The only thing that changes your flow is your body itself.
Benefits to swimming on your period
There are many benefits to swimming on and off your period. It’s a great low-impact exercise that is beneficial to your muscles, joints, and brain!
One study used 70 people with periods to test the correlations between swimming and PMS, concluding that there are beneficial effects of swimming both on physical and psychological symptoms of PMS. The water takes pressure off your abdominal muscles and relieves cramps, plus the endorphins released during exercise can be natural pain relievers as well. It also increases blood flow, which helps ease prostaglandins - the chemical that causes you to feel pain during your period.
As mentioned earlier, endorphins are released when exercising, and this can help to relax the body and mind. It can also be a great way to physically release stress held in the body throughout the day.
It’s not surprising all of the things just might boost your mood, from natural pain-relieving endorphins, to feeling weightless, and shedding the stress!
When to avoid swimming on your period
If you’ve recently had a surgical procedure in the vagina, or egg retrieval, or a hysteroscopy, you should avoid swimming until a doctor approves. You should also avoid swimming for a few weeks, if you’ve recently had a miscarriage and are still experiencing bleeding, or if you have just had a baby.